Wednesday, 19 June 2013

3rd at British Universities MTB

Last weekend was the British University MTB Champs (BUCS), held once again on Birchall, an area just outside Sheffield. Last year it had rained solidly for a few weeks before, creating a mudfest rivalling Mountain Mayhem. I thought I'd pulled off a good race to finish 4th more due to my running ability than my biking skills...

3rd in the individual and 2nd team!
However, this was probably the last time I'll race a BUCS race and I still had one target to achieve. I'd won BUCS medals (and even a BUSA medal I think - yes I've been at Uni long enough for them to change the name of the sports association) as part of a team, but I'd never quite made it onto the podium in the individual race, so I was going to have to give it a go!

On a preride I was very pleased to see they'd removed the killer grassy grind up from the start, inserting an even steeper singletrack one. I'm not joking, this was much more fun! The course was also dry! YES! No hike a bike this time :-).
The start of each lap had a section of field to hammer it across, then you hit a rutted track before you entered the forest. Straight into the singletrack and up a steep hill (with one 'unridable' for me section) then the rest was a whole lot of swooping fun. They'd also kept my favourite bit of the course in, an excellent bit of downhill with a good speedy burm followed by a steep drop/jump.

So I set off with my new race tactic for this year, race at the front until you can't anymore! Well...that was approximately 100m, thanks Helen Clayton for that steaming pace off the line!

Andy chasing me down!

My lungs were burning entereing the forest, this is the first properly fast effort I've put in since being prescribed drugs that seem to work for my asthma. Turns out they do work, I didn't actually have to stop, but it did take 1.5laps (30mins) for my lungs to warm up properly...hmmm think I might need to change my warm up in future if I'm going to race for less than 5hours...

Trying to put as many guys between me and 4th

 The first lap was spent changing position, 4th - 5th - 4th. The first 3 disappeared after I almost lost it on some roots. I pulled away from 5th but I really didn't think I stood a chance of catching them again. Then we hit the finish/start field and there was 3rd! I caught her half way through lap 2, just as my lungs started operating properly but just as we went from open field to singletrack. I decided to stick on her wheel for a bit.

Too fast for the camera. My favourite bit of the race, downhill!
 Mistake! She used the best tactic available in the girls race, namely putting guys moving slower than you between you and your opposition. We'd started 5mins behind the mens race so spent most of the race catching and overtaking guys - both good in terms of having a target and bad in terms of getting stuck...
Team Sheffield!
No need to panic though, once on the field again I reeled her back in and overtook, putting the hammer down and trying to employ the same tactics in reverse for the last 2 laps.

It was such a fun race, the route was much better than last year through just a few tweeks, less soggy grass sections, some logs in the uncrossable wheel eating trench....

I managed to stay ahead, finishing 3rd and getting that elusive individual medal! As a bonus, Becky Bright had an ace ride to finish 8th, meaning we won silver in the team competition as well! The guys team had a good day at the office getting the silver medal in the team competition. So I had to squeeze a quick celebratory drink in before heading off to a great evening of dancing at my friends wedding!

Thursday, 13 June 2013


I'm breaking the mold here, more than one blog a month! Today I have been running around in North Yorkshire, supporting James Thurlow as he follows the Coast to Coast route from Robin Hoods Bay to St Bees.

James runs across the country for diabetes reseach UK -

The big question on everyones lips is Howfast? How fast can James cross the country? James, who has type 1 Diabetes himself, has been training hard and getting to grips with juggling blood glucose levels, insulin and running further than most people can comprehend in a day! He is raising money for Diabetes Research UK and, up until Wednesday evening, anybody that donated could guess how fast he was going to do it, with the closest prediction winning £1000 of outdoor kit!

The climb up from Glaisdale
 When I got out of the van at the Lion Inn, I could see less than 10m.....this was going to be fun! Thankfully James had booked the weather for directly overhead to be clear, in fact, clear enough for my face to be well and truly sunburnt...I ran towards Glaisdale and met them part way there.

Supporters at Clay Bank
James set a cracking pace today,even through the heaviest rain shower I've been in for a while (we literally looked like we'd all had a shower in our running kit) and he's still going, just past Northallerton! This does mean my guess of 3 days 19hours and 34 minutes is well off the mark, currently looking likely to finish somewhere between 2-2.5days! Good luck with the rest of it James!

Setting off up Clay Bank

Support James, read all about his preparation and follow his progress (thanks to a handy tracker) here:

Monday, 3 June 2013

Team Haglofs-Silva 2nd at the Open 2 Day

Thanks to James Kirby for some ace pictures this weekend! Running of Helm Crag

What a couple of weekends racing! Two weeks ago I was on Jura for the fell race. If I showed you this:
 I would forgive you for thinking that's the race profile. Not a bad route! However that isn't even half of it....the actual race profile looks like this:
The climbs are steap, the terrain rough, the race long - all things that should play to my strengths. Unfortunately the pollen was also high and we camped the night before. Around the 2km marker my lungs were feeling it a 5km I'd put it down to the start being 11km  I knew it wasn't and that my asthma was bad but I was in 4th! 15km I accepted this fact and was no longer in 4th however by this point I was in the middle of nowhere with the best route back being the race route. So a very very very slow walk got me over the paps, losing oodles of time and places but eventually I made it back. All I can say is, if you ever get the chance to sit on one of the paps and look at what you've just run down, do it, it looks mental!

Thus started the recovery - 6 days and counting to the open 2 day. By Tuesday I wasn't optimistic, walking to uni and back was an expedition in intself. By Wednesday there was a glimmer of hope, but it wasn't until Thursday I could breathe a deep sigh of relief that my lungs had stopped burning and whoever it was had stopped sitting on my chest! A bit of a test run on Friday morning and although not tip top I could at least run - a good start!

So, off to the lakes for the open 2 day, I was racing with Bruce Duncan, Tim Higginbottom and Chris Near as Team Haglofs-Silva.
The race had a fast a furious format, there were five stages, each separated by a couple of hours so you could try and stuff some Wilfs chilli into you and maybe get changed (although there was no time for changing if you took as long to eat as I did...). Stage one was a score format - we had two hours and were presented with a map scattered with checkpoints, each with a set number of points. The aim was to get as many points as you could in the two hours, the big question though, could we get them all. Well, we thought so!
From Easdale tarn we took in the sights of Castle How, Stickle Tarn, Seargent Man, Codale Tarn and Helm Crag (among others)...although I think the rest of the team took in more of the sights as I spent a large portion of this staring at Tim's shoes as he towed me along. He had gone to great lengths to make sure he was wearing one of every colour in the new Haglofs Monochrome range....
Tim's shoes, unfortunately you can't see his pink bumbag on this picture
 We stormed round the course picking up all of the checkpoints and arriving back almost 3 minutes early taking the lead, with Team Mountain Hardwear and Adidas Terrex hot on our heals. Best of all no major asthma attack - good work lungs!

The next stage was a similar format, 5hours score course on mountain bikes, and this is where the race started to hot up. This time there was no question of clearing the course so some tactics were required. Our route was a loop with some awesome descents, visiting Chapel Stile, Little Langdale, and Wray Castle then heading through the forests to the ferry port where we had just enough time to get an ice cream before jumping on the ferry across to Windermere. From there it was up up up onto the fells, over to Troutbeck and back to Rydal via a bit of a time trial along the road to pick up a control we'd discarded earlier. This wasn't the smoothest of stages, I lost a bolt out of the cleat on my shoe so every time I stopped I had to realign it and clip in...then the shoe would wobble all over the place giving my lower back a good workout... I also inadvertantly let go of the bike tow at full stretch which Bruce definitely knew about, oops... and Tim got a puncture on an excellent bit of downhill near Troutbeck, attempt one of sealing it failed so out with the inner tube. We still got a decent score but Mountain Hardwear took the lead, we were now in second, trailing by 20 points, with Adidas Terrex only 1 point behind us!

Don't let go of a bike tow at full stretch...
Into the night, the sun set, the silva runner 550 torches came out, again we had a tactical decision to make as 90minutes was not enough to clear the course.The 'safe' option was obvious...but safe is never fun right? We hit this one hard, commiting to climbing loughrigg twice (not many people bothered with this). Given the cooler air and lack of pollen my lungs felt like a completely new pair! I love a bit of night running and we soared round, getting back in 1hr28 mins, perfect!

End of the night run

Adidas Terrex also hit this one hard hoping to claw back that one point, but didn't make it back on time. All change in the leaderboard with us taking the lead, 16 points ahead of Mountain Hardwear with Adidas Terrex in 3rd.

Sunday started with Stage 4 which was a little different to the rest of the event, a 'trail run' which was essentially the fairfield horseshoe. 500points to the winner, then 5 points lost for every minute, or part of a minute, you were behind the winner. The plan was simple, take it out fast and try and secure a few more points lead before the kayak which was definitely not our strongest discipline.

Start of the Fairfield Horseshoe
 Within the first few minutes it became clear that Mountain Hardwear also considered this to be the crux of the race, as Kim came past, panting hard and pulling Sally up the hill. Closely following was Stuart towing Alex up the hill! Now we knew we were in for a tough run. Apparently Kim kept that effort on all the way to the top and I can well believe it as, even with Tim and Chris both towning me at the same time we reached the summit 6minutes down, not ideal. I did however get a spot prize and a new nickname 'slingshot Harris' for this effort. Now came the most exciting part of the race so far - catching Mountain Hardwear on the descent....or trying anyway.

Off up to Fairfield, Mountain Hardware a switchback ahead

This meant I stayed on Tim's tow down the hill as well. Apparently Tim was running pretty much as fast as possible and just waiting for the tug to come on the tow as I hit the deck! Fortunately that didn't happen and we clawed back about 3minutes on the descent. It all came down to the exact times, as long as we were only 3 minutes down we would enter the paddle on even terms.....we were 9seconds over only taking the 3minutes of penalty!! So Mountain Hardwear went into the paddle with a 4 point advantage.Boy this was nail biting!

 I'll quickly add an aside here. When I saw the time for Fairfield I was pretty pleased, 1hr37! That would have had me in 5th in the English Champs race (so if I could just take Tim and Chris with me fell running that would be great). Even more impressive was Sally and Mountain Hardwear getting round in 1hr33 which would have been 3rd! Achieving those times after 8.5hours of racing, I think this was the most impressive stage of the whole race.

Into the boats, we set off 4mins behind Mountain Hardwear, back to the score system with 2hours to paddle. We put everything into this, going for clearing the course as we could see them doing just ahead of us. Both teams cleared the course and both teams arrived back over the two hour time limit so time penalties would apply....predictably, mountain hardwear had been faster however. They got back 8minutes faster than we did, securing the win. It was an excellent race and fantastic to have such hot competition! I'm already looking forward to the next 2 day event on the first weekend in July in Wales.